Help with Rescue Basenji Mixes
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  • In September, we rescued brother & sister basenji/cockapoo mixes. They are 2 years old and seem to have not been socialized properly at the rescue. The sister is well on her way to living a normal life (she's affectionate and starting to work on using the leash) but her brother is another story. When we first brought them home, he was completely untouchable. It's been 5 months and he's only slightly better. He likes to be around the family, but has clearly bonded to me. He follows me everywhere, sits beside my chair as I practice my cello, will lick my face, and seems genuinely interested in being with me. He's super smart and has learned sit/stay/come. I cannot reach out and touch him, though.

    It's difficult having to deal with him, and he badly needs a bath. I've been working with him (alone, without his sister who is happy to push him aside to get his treats) giving treats and petting him under his chin. He's incredibly sweet and loyal, but it's just a little frustrating that we can't break through that last barrier to petting and affection.

    Anyone else here have any experience with a basenji or mix with this kind of problem? Any suggestions on how to convince him to make the leap to trust (at least just) me? I've tried Rescue Remedy, CBD oil (a perk of being in CA), melatonin, benadryl, you name it. Our vet gave me Acepromazine but I'm remiss to try it.

    We're considering calling a mobile vet to knock him out so we can give him a bath! But, after that, then what?!

    Any and all advice (support) is welcome. Thanks!!

    last edited by lisafebre
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  • K

    Some dogs are more cuddly than others. And maybe this boy needs more time. I know of cases where it took one to two years for a basenji to invite and enjoy cuddles. Patience is key, and along the way, try to seperate your own needs from what he needs. He obviously sees you as the leader, so you have done a lot already. Take pride and joy in that. He will come for more if and when he wants it. And kudos to you and your family to take them in.

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  • @lisafebre said in Help with Rescue Basenji Mixes:

    When we first brought them home, he was completely untouchable.

    I am trying to get my head around this. How did you bring him home if he was untouchable? At some point, someone must have handled him. Was he housebroken? How do you take him outside to potty? etc.etc.

    Must be a small dog. What does he do if you try to touch him? Is he aggressive? Growls, bites? Or just avoids your touch? Obviously this situation can't continue. What will you do if he is injured and you absolutely need to handle him? You don't want to frighten him but at some point (really, after 5 months?) you will just have to take hold of him and get him used to being handled and held. Too many things need to be done for his physical welfare, e.g. toenails clipped, anals emptied if he has that problem. If you can't find a way to get past his fears perhaps you need a professional to come and manage the initial steps. As long as he isn't hurt he should quickly learn that being handled need not be feared. I have found that feral cats, for example, tame down very quickly when they realize being touched and handled doesn't hurt.

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  • I second Shirley's post.. this can't continue.
    As for Ace.. throw it in the trash. I used it in the old days, but the more I have learned the more frightening that drug is. Very much not worth it. Prozac might help a lot.

    A lot depends on what he does if you try to touch him. If just avoid, okay, you can work with that. Becomes aggressive/tries to bite or threatens to... that is behaviorist time.

    The fact that he WANTS your attention will help. So you do a Nothing in Life is Free program to solidify in his head that you are in control, he doesn't have to worry. It helps build confidence.
    http://k9deb.com/nilif.htm

    Also from Debbie McKean is this section on Calming Signals. They do work.

    Calming Signals

    Two dogs, strangers to each other, meet at the park. Rover slowly blinks as he averts his
    eyes and sniffs at the grass. Fido yawns. Rover looks toward Fido, flicks his tongue and then
    moves in a wide half circle towards Fido. Fido flicks his tongue in response, then approaches
    Rover and sniffs him. Rover stands still until Fido is finished and then he sniffs. Fido goes into
    a play bow (front legs extended, butt in the air) and the party is on. They romp and play and
    growl and bite and have a wonderful time. Neither has had enough exposure to other dogs
    to be well skilled in social nuances, just enough to send calming signals and an invitation to
    play. More experienced dogs will produce an entire range of eye movement and body
    language in a few seconds, communications that most humans don't even notice, and
    commence to playing (or fighting!) in quick order.

    We can use these signals to our advantage. Tongue flicking appears to have a number of
    closely related meanings. Frantic flicking can mean "I'm very, very nervous! Please calm
    down!". Less frantic flicking seems to ask "I'm nervous, but I'm coping, are you OK?". Dogs
    noticeably relax if their tongue flicking is answered in kind. A simple lizard impression on our
    part can go a long way towards telling the dog that we mean him no harm. When handling a
    very nervous dog a stronger way to get the "I'm OK, you're OK" message across is to tongue
    flick and slowly blink, or blink and yawn or any combination of these things.

    Some dogs never see anything other than their own homes, their own back yards and their
    own people. The social skills of these dogs are going to be poor. They may not recognize
    calming signals since they've had scant opportunity to learn them or practice them since
    leaving their littermates. They may also be so overwhelmed by the strange atmosphere and
    people that they are incapable of calming down even if they do recognize the signals.
    Conversely, a dog who's been throwing signals at people for years and receiving intermittent
    (even if unintentional) positive responses may over-exaggerate his body language and
    calming signal usage.

    Forehead massage is a very effective means of calming. I think it is a successful method
    because it feels good and is an indication that no harm is intended.

    What must they think of us? Why would any dog allow himself to be put on his back on an
    x-ray table, by two strangers, and have his legs stretched out? Why in the world would any
    animal allow us to poke needles into his skin? I've come to believe that well socialized dogs
    learn that humans can sometimes be very weird. We do completely outrageous things
    without adverse effects to the dog. They learn to be tolerant of our weirdness. Those that
    are not tolerant are only displaying normal canine behavior, not something odd. We're the
    ones being odd.

    The bottom line is that we are strangers to the dog. We are not pack mates. We are not a
    known quantity. We are the unknown, the unsafe, a perceived danger. We cannot arrogantly
    demand that they cooperate with our efforts to put them in very uncomfortable situations. If
    we try very hard, what we can do is communicate our promise to "First, do no harm".<<

    I would get a thyroid check, full panel, to make sure some of the behaviors aren't thyroid related. Ditto on eyes and hearing.

    Just watch for any signs of fear or aggression. Being bitten is not good for you or the dog.

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  • Both of these dogs are between 25-30 pounds. The plan for vet care is currently through a mobile vet so that we can deal with him here. If an emergency were to happen, it would mean getting him into the travel crate for the trip. That wouldn't be too hard - he loves his crates.

    We are going to need to have him sedated for a grooming soon, but yeah, the ace is NOT an option. I have used Benadryl to slow him down enough to get his collar on, and spent some time petting him. But since that time, he's fought the Benadryl and won't relax enough to let that happen again!

    One of the volunteers at the rescue "caught" him in a blanket for us to take home. I think because he was in his familiar world where he had grown up and since the situation was all new & frightening, he let the guy carry him to our car. But once we were in the car, the dog sat in my lap the whole time! I even ended up carrying him into our backyard from the car when we first arrived home.

    He's not aggressive at all - not even when I try to pet him. And if I do get a hand on him, he just jumps back, but doesn't run away. I've been working the last 2 weeks with him on petting him under the chin when I give him treats. He will let me scratch his neck while he's taking the treat. I've started reaching out to him and he will sniff my hand without a treat and not recoil.

    He will put his paws on my knees to ask for treats; he will jump up next to me on the sofa and lay down beside me; he licks my face and loves to "give" affection, just not receive it!

    I think he has hope, for sure. Do you think catching him and forcing him to tolerate petting is a good idea, or should I continue along like this - with treats & encouragment?

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  • @lisafebre said in Help with Rescue Basenji Mixes:

    Do you think catching him and forcing him to tolerate petting is a good idea, or should I continue along like this - with treats & encouragment?

    Without seeing the dog and his reactions it's hard to be sure, but I would be uncomfortable with a dog I can't easily lay hands on to examine or treat. I would be inclined to hold him briefly, then give him a treat and let him go. Rinse, repeat, until he becomes more comfortable with longer periods. One caveat: do not release him if he is struggling. You don't want to reinforce that behaviour. If he is quiet, or as soon as he is quiet, release him without fanfare. I would be as matter of fact as possible, hopefully persuading him it is no big deal. Don't suddenly grab at him, either. Again, keep things as low key as you can. Gradually introducing more contact is the way to go. Waiting for him to offer it may take a very long time, especially if he is getting what he wants from what you are currently offering.

    A somewhat slower approach would be to hold off treats until he takes an incremental step to allowing you more contact. Clicker training might be a good way to go.....asking for small steps, i.e. he gets a little closer before the click that signals the reward, and with good timing and repetition he will be sitting in your lap in short order!!

    Just to clarify, if you take hold of him I reiterate that you don't release him if he is struggling, but OTOH if you go the other route and entice him with clicker training or treats to get close, I would not then restrain him at all, but let him retreat if he wishes. It's a subtle difference, but important. You don't want to "punish" him for giving you what you want voluntarily, but if you do initiate contact yourself, he shouldn't be able to "reward" himself by struggling and thereby getting free. At some point you will have to address this no matter which method you use initially, as when it becomes necessary to restrain him for any reason you don't want a fight on your hands.

    last edited by eeeefarm
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  • @eeeefarm thank you! All stuff I'm willing to try with him. And I will!!

    What I do (as far as treats) is take him outside alone (so he doesn't feel pressure to compete with his sister for treats). He has to work for treats, reaching over my hand so I can pet him. I only release the treat when he lets me scratch him.

    He's actually started coming up to me without treats involved, and about an hour ago, he laid down next to me. I reached out and petted his rump and he not only didn't jump up and run, but turned himself around to face me then took a nap.

    When we first brought him home, if we touched him, he would jump like he'd been shocked with a cattle prod! That's slowly changed (only for me, no one else in the family) to the point we're at now. We've also agreed that it's just me that is making the attempts with this guy. We don't want him thinking everyone is going to be reaching and grabbing at him. Just me, the one he is attached to.

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  • Just you is good for now, but at some point he needs to accept everyone else in the family. It sounds like you are making progress and perhaps you will get there without forcing anything, but you need to keep moving forward. Ask a little more before giving the treat. Try getting something from him without luring him, if possible. Are you familiar with clicker training? I think it would work well in this situation. Some good info here

    last edited by eeeefarm
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  • @eeeefarm i have tried the clicker but it scares him! So I make "kissy" noises as he comes in for a treat. Today, I alternated giving treats for pets with no treats. It didn't deter him from allowing me to pet. :) He also jumped up on a chair with me and put his front paws on my lap. That's a first! Usually he just stands with his paws on the chair while keeping his hind feet on the floor. I am less worried about doggie decorum at this point and more about him making moves toward me.

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  • @lisafebre said in Help with Rescue Basenji Mixes:

    @eeeefarm i have tried the clicker but it scares him! So I make "kissy" noises as he comes in for a treat.

    That should work fine. Just be consistent with whatever you use, but you may need to adjust the timing. You should use your "marker" the same way you would a clicker, i.e. to mark the behaviour you are rewarding. So perhaps another sound or word (I tend to use "yes!") to use at the moment he does the behaviour (or an incremental move toward the behaviour) that you are trying to encourage. Remember that the click or marker word ends the behaviour and signals the reward.

    It does sound like you are making good progress. At some point as petting him becomes normalized you will want to phase out the treats and reserve them for whatever your next behaviour goal is, perhaps climbing into your lap so you can cuddle or pick him up. Again, go slow, don't restrain when he has come to you. When you reach the point where you can make the approach instead of him making it, and he doesn't shrink away, it will be time to go on to handling, picking him up, etc. at which point if you have initiated contact you change to releasing him when he is quiet, not if he attempts to leave. Key is don't ask for too much too fast, and if there is a difficult point go back to where he is comfortable and proceed again. You'll get there!

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